Society

Fish fuel fertile forest farm

‘Aquaponics’ effort has best of two ag worlds
By MIKE BROWN
Reporter Editor


Jarred Cox shows off his ‘aquaponics’ setup which uses frame from old RHS vocational agriculture greenhouse. 
Reporter/Mike Brown Jarred Cox shows off his ‘aquaponics’ setup which uses frame from old RHS vocational agriculture greenhouse. Reporter/Mike Brown When you think “farm” you probably don’t think of something in the sand under the post oak trees in the Western Hills subdivision west of town.

And you sure don’t think of the “livestock” which fuels that farm.

Fish. Or to be a little more indelicate about, it fish poop.

But that describes Jarred Cox’s “aquaponics” operations at Rising Oaks Farm, which is cranking out some of the freshest, and finest looking, vegetables around.

CYCLE—It’s a meeting of two worlds, hydroponics and aquaculture.

Here’s how it works. There are two large tanks of tilapia in the south end of a greenhouse.

(The greenhouse, by the way is the frame of the former Rockdale High School Vocational Agriculture Department which used to stand off Colorado Street.)


Veggies start life as seeds in tiny cups. Spoons are markers showing what’s in each. Veggies start life as seeds in tiny cups. Spoons are markers showing what’s in each. “Stuff” from the tanks, mixed with water, undergoes interaction with two kinds of bacteria, which converts it into premium plant food.

Then the water is recirculated into the tanks.

“We don’t use much water at all,” Cox said. “Unless there’s a leak or something, the water cycles all the way through, is returned to the tanks and never leaves the building.”

PRODUCE—It obviously works.

Rising Oaks Farm’s greenhouse is full of tomatoes, peppers, kale, Swiss chard, broccoli and several kinds of lettuce.

“I got into this because I didn’t think there was enough fresh produce being grown in the area,” Cox said. “I wanted to see if I could do it.”

He went to the Internet, found aquaponics was growing in several areas— most noticeably, Hawaii— bought a “how to” book and the rest is history.

“I know of two other people, both in the Cameron area, who are doing this,” he said.

It’s not your average farm, even your average greenhouse.

Obviously there can’t be any pesticides used.

They’d get into the water cycle and kill the fish, who are, after all, the fuel for the entire operations.

But aquaponics is even greener than green, going beyond organic farming.

“Substances used in organic farming to kill pests won’t work either,” Cox said.

“They’re soap based or oil based and that would kill the fish.”

FISH FRY—So there’s a lot of hand to hand work in the greenhouse including pulling weeds.


Tilapia surface to gobble fish food, really the only ‘fuel needed’ in this ‘greener than organic’ farm that produces the bounty of plants at right. Tilapia surface to gobble fish food, really the only ‘fuel needed’ in this ‘greener than organic’ farm that produces the bounty of plants at right. The greenhouse has a wood-burning stove, from a Rockdale store once operated by his grandparents, Jim and Betty Cox.

He plans to sell the produce commercially. “I have some restaurants interested,” he said.

What happens to the fish? “I can’t sell them. I don’t have a permit to do that,” he said. “I guess what we’ll probably do is eat them.”



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